Neil Steinberg's latest book, Out of the Wreck I Rise, is intended to be a unique resource that "harnesses the power of literature, poetry, and creativity to forge change, deepen understanding, and even save lives" for those addicted to alcohol and for their families. A veteran newsman and senior columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, Steinberg has also written for Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Forbes.
Stay Thirsty Magazine was very pleased to visit with him at his home in Chicago for this discussion about his book, his life, alcoholism and recovery.
STAY THIRSTY: How did you settle on the idea of writing a "Literary Companion" to support the traditional avenues of alcohol addiction recovery?
NEIL STEINBERG: In my regular reading, I would collect quotes—poems, lines from memoirs, letters, and such—that seemed powerful, that offered insight and encouragement to my recovery. Over time, I realized that I could form them into a narrative, something that would illustrate what addiction is and how recovery works.
STAY THIRSTY: In Out of the Wreck I Rise you write that "recovery is the path of the hero." Why is that so?
NEIL STEINBERG: Because it is a difficult journey. Because though your life is at stake, it is also something that, at least initially, is often begun for the sake of others—your family, for instance—as much as for yourself. Because it requires courage, and strength. Because you are battling a monster—addiction—in a very real sense. If climbing a mountain can be viewed as heroic, I don't see why recovery shouldn't be.
STAY THIRSTY: One theme in your book is that people who want to overcome their addictions are not alone. What is it about brief quotations from famous writers, past and present, that give people comfort on their journey to sobriety?
NEIL STEINBERG: I think many of these quotes have a unique power, to inspire, to guide. When everything is swirling around a person, Virgil's "Yield not to evils" is a plan, a talisman, something that you can hold onto until your strength returns. They also give you insight into the situation of others and, therefore, your own.
STAY THIRSTY: How did you structure Out of the Wreck I Rise with regard to the recovery process and its non-linear trajectory? What role do you envision your book to play for people on that path?
NEIL STEINBERG: I began the book, like many recovery memoirs, when the party is still raging, then show how it sours and change becomes necessary. I wanted to include chapters on family, on Alcoholics Anonymous, on relapse, on time—mastering time is so essential to the recovery process. I wanted to end on an upbeat note, because change is possible.
STAY THIRSTY: What have you personally learned from writing this book?
NEIL STEINBERG: That there is no one golden road to sobriety. That countless people take countless journeys, and each individual has to find his or her own way and walk a unique road. That it is difficult, but the rewards are enormous. That there is much beauty and poetry and life waiting out there to be discovered.